Natural Hazards

Archives / 2018 / September

Mapping population dynamics to advance Disaster Risk Management

Mapping population dynamics to advance Disaster Risk Management


Today we have the honour to introduce Sérgio Freire as our guest. Sérgio Freire is a Geographer, currently working as Scientific/Technical Project Manager at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Directorate E. Space, Security and Migration, Disaster Risk Management Unit, based in Ispra, Italy. His main activities focus on developing applications of the JRC’s Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) in the context of disaster exposure, risk, and vulnerability analysis, including modelling population distribution at a range of spatial and temporal resolutions. Current activities also include global mapping and characterisation of human settlements, and developing satellite-based indicators to support monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals.



  1. When we think about disasters, we firstly mean natural hazards characteristics. However, potential harm comes even from vulnerability and exposure. Can you please explain to us what these elements are and which role they play in the risk equation?


In fact, natural hazards are ‘normal’ acts of nature that are part of the living planet that is Earth.

These only make the news and become disasters when they affect people (or property, systems) that display vulnerabilities to those specific phenomena. A strong earthquake in the middle of the Sahara desert may have little or no impacts due to scarce population and settlements, i.e., the absence of exposure. On the other hand, an earthquake of comparable magnitude occurring in cities of dissimilar countries may cause very different impacts and casualties due to the divergent structural vulnerabilities of built-up structures. However, for extreme events or hazards above a certain magnitude, exposure is a major driver of impacts.

Figure 1. Evolution of global population exposed to the highest seismic hazard, by decade. Bars refer to the total population in Modified Mercalli Intensity levels VIII to XII (right axis) and lines refer to percent population change relative to the previous period (left axis) (Source: Freire S., D. Ehrlich, S. Ferri, 2015. Population Exposure and Impacts from Earthquakes: Assessing Spatio-temporal Changes in the XX Century. Computer Modeling in Engineering & Sciences (CMES), SI: ‘Modeling of dangerous phenomena for risk mitigation’. Vol.109(2): 159-182)


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